Kenyan police officers are preparing to be deployed to Haiti, where preparations are underway

Civilian contractors have begun arriving in Haiti to help prepare for the arrival of Kenyan troops, whose deployment is currently in the works, a senior Biden official confirmed to the Miami Herald on Friday.

Todd D. Robinson, the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, said an initial deployment of Kenyan police officers is planned to coincide with President William Ruto’s arrival in Washington later this month.

The White House has confirmed that President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will host Ruto and his wife, First Lady Racheo Ruto, for a state visit on May 23 to mark the 60th anniversary of US-Kenya diplomatic ties.

“The first deployment will take place sometime around his state visit,” Robinson said, declining to give an exact date or the number of officers who will be deployed as part of the long-awaited Multinational Security Support mission.

On Friday, a day after U.S. helicopters were seen flying through the dark skies of Port-au-Prince, U.S. Southern Command landed another plane at Toussaint Louverture International Airport. The aircraft was carrying civilian contractors who will provide support to the Pentagon in the construction of the area hosting the Kenyan support mission in Haiti.

The Pentagon, which has committed $200 million to help with the mission, is responsible for preparing a base for the armed forces. Congressional aides have said this will take 45 days. Defense Department officials declined to provide details about their housing plans.

However, the construction of the base is crucial.

“We don’t want to put them in a situation where they’re not safely housed and they don’t have a place to sleep and make plans and do all that,” Robinson said.

Ruto in July 2023 for the first time pledged 1,000 of his police officers to lead an international force to assist Haiti’s national police, pending his government’s security assessment and a UN Security Council mandate, which came in October was given.

Since then, however, the initiative has faced one obstacle after another, from court challenges and legal roadblocks in Nairobi to funding freezes in Congress to the forced resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry on March 11 amid a mob uprising.

Although the court challenges appear to have been resolved, the initiative still lacks proper funding.

Republican lawmakers in Congress have ignored a request from the State Department to release $40 million of the $100 million it has pledged to support the mission.

Aides to Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas and Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho have criticized the plan, while accusing the administration of failing to provide clear details about the force. Administration officials, meanwhile, have said they have conducted more than 60 briefings and answered dozens of questions from GOP offices.

Amid the slowdown, thousands of Haitians have been killed or injured, and Haiti is teetering on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe as millions of people are unable to find enough food. The UN, which has joined the US in calling for assistance for the multinational force and humanitarian response, has said a Kenyan-led mission should be deployed quickly to help Haiti’s National Police tackle ruthless gangs people continue to be expelled from their lands. homes and hold millions of people hostage in Port-au-Prince.

Robinson declined to go into details about the operations. But he conceded that the purpose of the initial deployment is to provide aid to Haitians — who suffered a new series of attacks by armed gangs this week — and to convince U.S. lawmakers and donors to provide the necessary funding.

“We are doing the best we can, within our limitations and our authorities,” he said.

Robinson said there is currently enough money to pay Kenyan personnel costs and the initial deployment, but more money is needed. The aim is to deploy the armed forces in phases.

“I don’t think personnel will be our problem. I think the resources, the financial resources, will be our problem,” he admitted. “And we go to our friends in the international community every day, every hour, and ask them to go the extra mile.”

In the US, he said, a number of countries have deployed volunteer personnel. But the challenge is financing.

Earlier this week, the UN said a trust fund for the mission currently stands at just $18 million.

“The funds were provided by Canada, France and the United States,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Dujarric said the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Chad, Jamaica and Kenya have officially notified Guterres in writing, as requested by the UN Security Council, of their intention to provide personnel to the mission.

In late February, while Henry was in Nairobi to sign the necessary agreements for the deployment of Kenya’s armed forces, armed gangs in Port-au-Prince united and launched a broad attack on key government institutions, demanding his ouster.

Police stations, the airport and the seaport were all targeted. Gangs also orchestrated the release of more than 4,000 prisoners from the country’s two largest prisons. The attacks increased concerns that the mission would be too dangerous for international forces and when Henry was forced to resign, Ruto’s government halted the mission.

He has since said his police are ready to deploy and welcomed the installation of a new transitional presidential council in Haiti, which will be tasked with preparing the country for the mission.

“It is our intention that the international community support the Haitian National Police in carrying out their work, and also grant them peace,” he said. “These guys have been going 110% for a long time and they got the job done.”

Armed and outnumbered, Haitian police are struggling to push back gangs. In some cases, they have failed to stop neighborhood invasions and police station takeovers as the gangs tightened their grip on Port-au-Prince and parts of the Artibonite Valley. In other cases, they have managed to fight off attempts to take over the National Palace, the Central Bank and the international airport, which they have protected with help from members of the small Haitian army.

Frantz Elbé, the director general of Haiti’s National Police, said that since the attacks began on February 29, his officers have not only fought back the gangs but also created a buffer zone around the airport. Elbé’s own house was set on fire by gangs during the chaos.

“We have strengthened the security perimeter inside and outside the airport,” he said. “The police have carried out many operations that have enabled improvements in security at the airport. We also demolished many houses.”

The destruction of about 200 homes around the airport by the Haitian government, which has spent thousands of dollars compensating residents, has not only improved the runway’s visibility but also prevented gangs from to perch on structures and shoot at the runways. . The government has built security towers around the perimeter.

“This has already enabled the landing of five US flights that carried cargo and personnel,” Elbé said of the flights coordinated by the US Southern Command. “And more safety measures are being taken.”

Currently, he said, members of the military and police provide airport security. While police officers are outside, both soldiers and officers are inside.

Ultimately, Elbé said, the goal is to build the confidence needed for U.S. airlines to resume commercial flights to Haiti, which have been suspended since March 4.

“The second phase of our strategy is to dismantle the gangs and create a space where government can provide services to neighborhoods once occupied by gangs,” he said.

That’s where foreign forces, led by Kenya, will help, Elbé said. “They can help us in the operations we are going to carry out to dismantle the gangs.”

The motivation of Haitian police officers is not lost on U.S. officials, who say they have shown in the past two months that they can carry out complex and dangerous operations.

“This is what the training we did got us,” Robinson said. “There has been no total collapse. They were able to clear and maintain the airport and no one thought they would be able to do this… And we know how difficult this has been.”

Robinson declined to go into details about how many Kenyan officers would be deployed initially and how they would conduct operations. to the polls.

“The idea for this is to get them to elections. The police and their partnership with the Haitian military have shown that when push comes to shove, if they need to get something done, they can get it done,” Robinson said. “We think that with the introduction of this international force we can get them to elections. This is what success looks like. Are there any other things we should do after that? Yes. But if we can get them to the elections, that’s a strong start.”